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Indian Heaven Wilderness – It’s Heavenly Horse Riding in Washington

THNsept2011Indian Heaven Wilderness – It’s Heavenly Horse Riding in Washington

As published in the September / October 2011 edition of BCHW’s The Trailhead News Magazine

From my vantage point it appears that this is the summer that wasn’t. Writing this near the end of July, I haven’t yet given up on the sweater, and though I hear reports of a bright orb in the sky, I haven’t seen it on the west side of the mountains in quite a long time. Nor have we been able to make it into the high country, yet, this year.

So with that in mind, let’s head south to Mount Rainier’s somewhat smaller littler brother, Mount Adams, and visit an off-the path horse camp next to the Indian Heaven Wilderness.

If you haven’t been to the Indian Heaven Wilderness area, you’re in for quite a treat. Lakes, scenic views, forests and huckleberries – visit at the right time and you’ll understand the “heaven” part of the name.

Horse camping here is from the Falls Creek Horse Camp north of the town of Carson and it’s nothing like the positively palatial experience you get at the Kalama Horse Camp to the west or the view festival at the Mount Adams Horse Camp to the east. Falls Creek is small, only six or so spots and the camp drive is tight – tight as in, “I’d be very wary of taking an LQ rig into the camp.” If you have such an outfit, it may be best to disperse camp along the access road in one of several meadows north of the horse camp proper.

Riders with rigs capable of the tight turns in the horse campground will find highlines pre-strung with cables, picnic tables, fire pits, and a centrally located vault toilet in camp. Water in camp is limited to that found in the eponymous creek, an easy walk just south of camp.

Once you’ve arrived and settled in, it’s time to ride, and the riding is good. The Indian Racetrack Trail (#171) is located on the opposite side of Forest Service Road 65 just a bit north of the horse camp entrance.

Indian Racetrack will take you into the Indian Heaven Wilderness (remember to sign in) and proceeds through a rather rough and rocky trail to a broad meadow and the Indian Racetrack.

The Indian Heaven, and particularly the Indian Racetrack, have some great history behind them. For centuries, local native tribes would gather here each summer to partake of the area’s bounty of deer, fish and huckleberries. When not hunting, fishing, or berry picking, they raced their horses so frequently and with such vigor that the track drummed into the dirt still exists today as a bare depression that runs straight as an arrow for about a quarter of a mile. This is the Indian Racetrack. When we visited, we thundered down the racetrack ourselves…at a trot.

A notable viewpoint quite near the Indian Racetrack is Red Mountain located southeast of the Racetrack on the opposite end of trail #171 that you started your trek on. From the top of Red Mountain you’ll have a wonderful (if not windblown) vista of many of the volcanoes forming our side of the Pacific ring of fire. To the north, Mounts Baker and Rainier are clearly visible; to the northwest is Mount St. Helen’s broken cone, which is mirrored to the northeast by Mount Adams. A glance to the south will bring Mount Hood as well as California’s Mount Shasta in view.

With summer’s late start this year hopefully we’ll have a longer fall season to ride. If that’s the case, a trip to the Falls Creek Horse Camp will certainly not disappoint. This area requires a Forest Service pass. And please remember to practice LNT. As always, for more information about this and many more horse camping and riding areas in Washington, and beyond, visit